As students and teachers found themselves away from the classroom environment and learning from home, schools were again adapting to different ways of learning to ensure quality education continues.
For the Sacred Heart School in Tullamore, Co Offaly, the staff and student body were well prepared to deal with this upheaval and continued to deliver education uninterrupted, as a result of their digital education journey starting a number of years ago, and which is now firmly a part of their educational experience.
Almost eight years ago, this transformative school decided to adopt a digital-first approach, meaning that when the pandemic caused disruption on our shores, this generation of digital natives and their teachers had the skills to adapt and were already familiar with this innovative way of learning.
Please note this video was filmed prior to the current public health restrictions.
The introduction of new technology at the school ushered in a new way of teaching as it moved away from the longstanding “chalk and talk” approach, where children watch while the teacher works at the board. Now, teachers can take their Surface device and walk around the room, projecting what’s on their device onto the board, and students can also project their screen to share their work. The device hasn’t replaced the teacher, it has simply become a tool to enhance the learning experience.
Teachers use Microsoft Teams to conduct classes which are then recorded, and they also use it to correct assignments and provide feedback to pupils. The breakout rooms function within Teams simulates a real classroom scenario. The teacher can allocate and oversee multiple projects, all the while students can share files, chat and collaborate on projects in real-time, both in and out of the virtual classroom.
Sacred Heart has also integrated Microsoft OneNote as it provides a digital canvas or whiteboard that is easily shared with students, where teachers can write, type or add links, videos, images and audio for students. It allows for a more interactive and immersive learning experience.
The use of Office 365 also makes learning more accessible, with tools like the Immersive Reader helping students with additional learning needs by providing audio versions of written documents or by using visual clues for words.
The time and energy invested in adapting this digital approach to learning came into its own during the COVID-19 lockdown, as teachers and students were able to quickly adapt to remote lessons and the disruption to their lives was minimised.
The Insights tab on Teams also gave them access to data on how students were engaging with the lessons and work. And during the first lockdown, the school reported a 90% engagement rate with lessons across its entire student base.
“We have an unusual kind of aspect in that we’re quite a traditional school in the way we look, but we’re quite a progressive school in the way that we act.”
Pauline McKenna, Principal at Sacred Heart Tullamore.
“We’re leading in education in that we have fused quality teaching and learning with digital technology. We had spent about six years researching bringing in a device for our students and teachers. Repeatedly it came back to Microsoft, because they were not only delivering a device, but they were delivering an education package as well,” said Pauline McKenna, Principal at Sacred Heart Tullamore.
“We have students who have become active participants in their own learning and they will continue that long past the time they leave the Sacred Heart School,” McKenna added.